Re: spirituality & transformation

2010-08-21

Richard Moore

Bcc: FYI
________
From: Sharon Stevens
Date: 17 August 2010 01:01:21 IST
Subject: [Fwd: Fwd: Scotland trip report]

Dear Richard,

You wrote me once, after I sent you something on alienation and spirituality, to suggest that my experience complemented a gap in yours. It sounds as if that is no longer true! It’s really enriching to hear about your journey. Thank you for always being so ready to share the pathways of your knowledge and experience.

Like many others, I take M. Gandhi as my model social movement leader. Cesar Chavez also intrigues me. For both of these people, activism is an expression of a deep spiritual rootedness. That is, activism is almost a surface manifestation of what you call consciousness ‘all the way down.’ For me (because of Clifford Geertz) this substrate of shared consciousness is a part of the turtle archetype, though the turtle is usually interpreted as the earth; the overlap between earth consciousness and cultural consciousness is an appropriate overlap for the challenges of our time. Social movements often refer to the importance of “consciousness-raising”; spirituality, along these lines, is a particularly deep form of collective consciousness-raising that impacts and shapes rationalism without disregarding the latter; spirituality simply makes rationalism a servant of what is right and good and oriented toward human creativity, justice, and so on.

In addition to Gandhi and Chavez, you could point to Dorothy Day, Paolo Freire, and others. On a person-to-person level, one of the first activists whose approach to life deeply intrigued me was a Jesuit priest (a very maverick priest even for a Jesuit) who is regularly imprisoned for his protests againt the School of Americas (“Bix” to friends, or Father Bill Bichsel, SJ). He lives within Day’s Catholic Worker system. When I moved away from my loose associations with that network, one of my dearest companions became a man who studied with an Eastern spiritual master and worked very simply and quietly to build community at the very small neighbourhood level. Bix was notable for his ever-present joy; my neighbourhood leader had a tendency to say “conspiracy theory” (and mean it) while simultaneously laughing to the point of tears, presumably from the pure joy of being alive in such a strange world. I feel as if with both these people, their action was a consequence of their joy and hope and resilience, not the other way around.

Thanks for sharing from your sources. I haven’t come across the terms Atman and Brahman before, but I find what you write about the terms exciting. The approach strikes me as having parallels with the psychology of Jung, whose path of integration is at once a path of individuation and a deepening experience of the collective. About a decade ago, I read something that referred to Jung as the psychologist who would be best suited to guide us through the next shift in human consciousness, just as (in this person’s view), Adler had replaced Freud as the person most in tune with the psyche of their respective times.

I don’t know the exact term to use, whether it is somatic energy or some other term that attempts to explain what might be beyond explanation, but in my worldview, it is beyond speculation to think that we are living in a time where we can expect a significant change in human consciousness, a change that is not entirely new, but that is perhaps unprecedented in the number of people it will reach. This change has been experienced by individuals for centuries and centuries; what is different now, to my best guess, is that collective consciousness is rising in a way that will affect more individuals than before, as in “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I imagine a turtle surfacing beneath us all–I think I explained something along these lines in our first correspondence. Eckhart Tolle (the enlightened author of The Power of Now) writes that humanity is under tremendous pressure to evolve because a change in consciousness is required for our survival, and he expects to see increasing numbers of people responding positively to this pressure. Or, as the sig line of one of my correspondents asks us, what if Buddha were to be reincarnated, this time, as a community? Individual assent is always required for spiritual growth, but the latent energy of our shared humanity seems less out of reach to people living today, as if it were just below the surface for those who wish to tap into it.

The individual spiritual tradition I know best (Carmelite), if applied to a collective setting, would seem to suggest that the growth our world is ripe for is one that would be accompanied by–even prodded forward by–an unasked-for withdrawal from material satisfaction. The likely collapse of financial systems, radical changes in climate and accompanying human migrations, end of cheap oil, etc. serve as a collective version of what individual mystics have experienced for centuries as a withdrawal–a withdrawal not of their own making–from sensory pleasure to higher values that include an at-first unconscious tapping into sources of spiritual connection that could not be perceived when covered over by material dependencies. When those spiritual connections are recognised and integrated into consciousness, the value and joy of the material world becomes again apparent, but its place in life has been re-ordered in a more felicitous fashion. It is as if what was at first experienced as “withdrawal from” is re-interpreted as “movement towards,” and once that is recognised, the mystic recognises nothing worthwhile was ever left behind.

All this reminds me of what Transition Town folks say about creating a more positive future wihout oil dependency, except for the important caveat that spirituality is the ground for right action. “Heart and soul” groups in Transition Towns are essential, in my view; they should ultimately be integrated into the movement mainstream, as a key source for the movement, but as Nancy Fraser argues in her discussion of “counter-publics” (and here I’m thinking of counter-publics within a movement mainstream rather than a general body politic), whenever something has been marginalised for too long, building strength in a side group _with the EXPRESS purpose__ of reintegrating and changing the main group is an important tactic for reclaiming those voices that have been too-long ignored. That is, those whose views (or identities or whatever) have experienced suppression, marginalisation, or oppression need to build strength amongst like-minded folks before they have the strength to face the tensions inherent in integrating with those whose perspectives have been overly privileged for longer (such as the rational modernist perspective within the current environmental movement).

I speculate without sufficient knowledge that historic attempts at growth that have gone badly wrong (as when charismatic youth ecology movements provided the seedbed for fascist Germany) can be attributed to insufficient spiritual grounding that have led to a falling off to the left or the right of the centre path; this centre path is touted in fairy tales and spirituality (the via negative) as the path of death, and as the only path worth taking, for it turns out to be simultaneously the path of life. One example of this might be in the work of Murray Bookchin; the fairy tale left (which promises fame) could be understood as expressive individualism or lifestyle anarchism; the fairy tale right (which promises fortune) could be understood as libertarianism; only the centre path (in Bookchin’s case, variously conceived as social anarchism, social ecology, and municipal libertarianism–all versions of radical democracy with an eco-orientation, and all very, very close in feel to the left and right path) is the only path the provides sufficient friction (“death”) to offer meaningful resistance to injustice.

Cheers,

Sharon

   —
Hi Sharon,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much there for all of us to think about. 
I think you make a very good point here:
     Eckhart Tolle (the enlightened author of The Power of Now) writes that humanity is under tremendous pressure to evolve because a change in consciousness is required for our survival…

In the Sufi tradition, they say “If you increase your necessity, new organs of perception will develop”. Somewhat akin to “Necessity is the mother of invention”, or even “For every action an equal reaction”, in some kind of consciousness-physics. This principle does seem to offer hope for an emergence of some kind.
Notice that Eckhart says humanity is under tremendous pressure (necessity) to evolve, not that people are under that pressure. It is a pressure on the species-as-organism. And it is the species-as-organism that needs to evolve, to develop organs of perception, to become consciousness. 
This resonates with another point you make, and I’d like to know who the author is:
… what if Buddha were to be reincarnated, this time, as a community?

Buddha can be seen as a model of ‘what an enlightened being is like’.  If Buddha-spirit reincarnates as community, that would be a model of ‘what an enlightened community is like’. And that community, by its example, would also be a wise teacher of other communities, just as Buddha’s example was the core of his wise teaching to other beings. 
I think this concept, ‘Buddha-spirit as community’, expresses very well the nature of the ‘evolution of consciousness’ that humanity now needs. It is not our souls that are in special need at this time, but our civilization, our species-as-organism. Our special need now is not for an example of ‘a conscious being’, but for an example of ‘a conscious community’, what I’ve been referring to as ‘an empowered community’. From such a seed, by an organic process, a conscious civilization can grow. The oak can be found in the acorn; such is the nature of things organic.
You say:
I speculate without sufficient knowledge that historic attempts at growth that have gone badly wrong (as when charismatic youth ecology movements provided the seedbed for fascist Germany) can be attributed to insufficient spiritual grounding that have led to a falling off to the left or the right of the centre path… variously conceived as social anarchism, social ecology, and municipal libertarianism–all versions of radical democracy with an eco-orientation…

Of these various terms for the center path, I find ‘social anarchism’ and ‘social ecology’ the most evocative. ‘Social anarchism’ I interpret as community sovereignty. ‘Social ecology’ I interpret as referring to an organic form of local governance, and an organic way for communities to work together. In both cases I see ‘harmonization of interests’ as being the appropriate organic process. Eco-centrism is simply common sense, for any conscious being. 

thanks again,
rkm

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